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I'm the campaign treasurer for Debbie Holmes, who's the Democratic nominee in the Idaho 2nd Congressional District. Like all other campaigns, we're gearing up for the final push to Election Day.

No doubt you're aware that I and others in similar positions nationwide keep track all the campaign donations as well as expenditures. What you may not be aware of is the mechanics behind it. I'd like to take this opportunity to give you an idea of the nuts and bolts of campaign contributions. I hope you find what's below the fold enlightening:

DISCLAIMER: The following is specific to a Congressional campaign under the auspices of the FEC. Barack Obama and state campaigns operate under different rules, but the basic idea behind campaign finance reporting is pretty much the same for everyone.

For Congressional candidates, the current reporting period is the shortest of the cycle: October 1 to October 15. It's also the last cycle that will be reported to the FEC before the election. Apart from contributions of $1,000 or more, anything contributed from October 16 on won't be reported until December. The aforementioned large contributions have to reported separately as "48 Hour Notices" if they're received between October 16 and November 1.

In other words, unless you plan on dropping a four-figure donation RIGHT NOW IS YOUR FINAL OPPORTUNITY to help your Congressional candidate show his or her fundraising clout before the election.

If you contribute more than $200 to a candidate in an election cycle, campaigns are required to use their best efforts to record your name, address, occupation and employer, which in turn becomes part of the public report. Keep in mind this is $200 in CUMULATIVE contributions (i.e. we need this information from the person that contributes $20 ten times as well as from the person who contributes $200 once). It really helps us out if you provide this with every contribution regardless of size.

We don't need your life's story, either. Something simple like "Agent with XYZ Insurance," "Self-employed writer," "Student at XYZ College," or "Retired" works just fine.

The limit for contributions in a cycle election (primary and general election are considered separate, even if they're in the same year) is $2,300 per person, and that's cumulative too. If you follow these rules, it not only helps the campaign treasurer, it also minimizes the risk of your candidate's campaign running afoul of FEC regulations.

While some campaigns still mail paper reports, I'd venture to guess most Congressional campaigns (including us) use the FEC's filing software. It's called FECFile, and it basically allows us to enter in receipts, expenditures and when ready upload the reports. Once uploaded, the report appears at the FEC site immediately. That part is pretty slick.

While FECFile does take some getting used to, it's not as cumbersome as some here in Idaho would have you believe.

I love ActBlue. I work with them quite a bit on the receiving end. They're quick with getting the money to us and they provide me with all the information I need for my accounting and reporting. As a campaign treasurer, I couldn't be happier with them. In fact, I'll insert a gratuitous plug for ActBlue contributions to my campaign, Debbie Holmes for Congress in ID-02 right here.

But that said, you should know that ActBlue takes a service fee from contributions they receive. From ActBlue's site, "The processing fee - 3.95% of the gross contribution amount - pays for our access to the credit card network and the operation and ongoing development of our fundraising infrastructure." For example if you send our campaign $50, we'll get $48.02.

This is perfectly understandable; after all, ActBlue has overhead costs like everyone else. Merchant-end fees will be deducted out of any credit card contribution whether it's done at ActBlue or somewhere else; there's no getting around it. In my experience ActBlue is the most reasonable of these services from a campaign standpoint. The point is if you want to be absolutely certain that every single penny of your contribution goes directly to the candidate, send your contribution directly to the campaign.

This is not meant in any sense to dissuade Kossacks and others from using ActBlue, rather to let everyone know how the process works.

Support the Democrat of your choice, and do it soon. We all need you.

Originally posted to W Lane Startin on Thu Oct 09, 2008 at 09:37 PM PDT.

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